Seabird Group Seabird Group

Teaching old dogs and young dogs new tricks: canine scent detection for seabird monitoring

Mark Bolton1*, Greg Morgan2, Susannah E. Bolton1, Jack R. F. Bolton1, Sarah Parmor2 and Laura Bambini3

1 RSPB Centre for Conservation Science, The Lodge, Sandy, Bedfordshire, SG19 2DL, UK;

2 RSPB Ramsey Island, St Davids, Pembrokeshire, SA62 6PY, UK;

3 Global Species Recovery, RSPB UK Headquarters, The Lodge, Sandy, Bedfordshire, SG19 2DL, UK.

Full paper

Abstract

Dogs Canis familiaris have been domesticated for over 11,000 years and have been trained to perform a vast array of tasks. Scent dogs are routinely used to detect elusive animals of conservation concern as well as the presence of invasive nonnative predators. However, a recent review of studies on scent dogs for nature conservation found few peer-reviewed papers on detection of seabirds, and we suggest the potential of scent dogs for seabird monitoring is currently under-utilised. To stimulate wider consideration of the use of scent dogs for seabird monitoring we: (i) document the training, testing and performance of a one-year old Golden Retriever, to detect scent from European Storm Petrels Hydrobates pelagicus, and to differentiate between scent of European Storm Petrels and Manx Shearwaters Puffinus puffinus, and (ii) report on the field performance of a 12-year old Border Collie to detect Manx Shearwaters breeding in natural nest burrows and artificial nest boxes. We show that these individual dogs had a high success rate in locating hidden seabird targets by scent in experimental and field settings and we highlight some of the set-backs encountered during the training process, and their solutions. We show that the detection of occupied Manx Shearwater burrows is dependent on their depth and recent history of occupation. Our results highlight the potential value of scent dogs to establish the presence of particular seabird species at sites where breeding status is currently uncertain, and to map the extent of occupied areas. Further work is needed to validate the use of scent dogs to determine seabird breeding density in real-world situations, where detection probability may be influenced by nest site characteristics and breeding density. We stress the need to involve professionals in the selection, training and testing of scent dogs.

Introduction

Dogs Canis familiaris have a long history of domestication, stretching back over 11,000 years (Bergstr m et al. 2020), and have been trained to perform a vast array of tasks, including protection and herding of livestock, search and rescue, assistance of the visually impaired and scent detection of a range of targets including narcotics, explosives, disease, plants and animals (Bird 1996; Gazit & Terkel 2003; Browne et al. 2006; Jezierski et al. 2016; Gerritsen & Haak 2017; Bennett et al. 2020). Canine olfactory neurophysiology is well-understood (Uemura 2015) and widely recognised to be immensely superior to human olfactory ability. In New Zealand and North America, scent dogs have been used for conservation purposes for many decades, to locate species of conservation concern, and their non-native predators (Dahlgren et al. 2012). The New Zealand Government Department of Conservation has operated a Conservation Dog Programme for many years (www.doc.govt.nz/our-work/conservation-dogprogramme, accessed 27/12/2020), to promote, manage and set the standards for the use of scent detection dogs for conservation purposes. Within Europe, the use of scent dogs is much less widespread, despite their potential for surveys of species such as Capercaillie Tetrao urogallus being recognised many years ago (e.g. Gilbert et al. 1998). A recent review (Grimm-Seyfarth et al. 2021) of over 2,400 published cases of the use of scent dogs for wildlife detection purposes found 619 employed dogs to detect avian targets, but only nine referred to the detection of seabirds. The paucity of peer-reviewed studies on canine detection of seabirds is surprising, since canine detection has been shown to be effective for species that breed in cavities and are only active above ground nocturnally (e.g. kiwis Apteryx sp. and Kakapo Strigops habroptilus). Many seabird species exhibit these same characteristics and some, such as the storm petrels, are well-known for their strong odour, which suggests that scent detection may provide an effective method for establishing the presence of nesting birds at potential breeding locations, and possibly to quantify breeding density.

The location and extent of breeding colonies of cavity-dwelling, nocturnal seabirds are often poorly known, leading to uncertainty regarding the presence of particular species at a given site. Even where the occurrence of breeding birds has been established, delimiting the extent of the breeding colony/sub-colonies (which potentially may cover vast areas in difficult terrain) is problematical, leading to large extrapolation errors in estimating population size from density of sample plots. The use of scent dogs to (i) detect the presence of a particular species at a site, and (ii) to indicate the extent of the area(s) occupied by the target species, offers considerable potential that is currently under-utilised in a European context, likely due to lack of experience of scent dog capabilities by those responsible for seabird monitoring.

Our primary aim is to highlight to the community of seabird researchers, conservation managers and statutory agencies the potential of scent dogs for seabird monitoring and to encourage further research into the efficacy and efficiency of scent dogs compared to existing methods. Here we (i) document the training, testing and performance of a one-year old Golden Retriever to locate targets treated with scent of European Storm Petrels Hydrobates pelagicus (hereafter Storm Petrel) in a variety of experimental settings, and (ii) quantify the reliability of a self-trained 12-year old Border Collie sheepdog to detect occupied Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus (hereafter Shearwater) nests in natural and artificial nest sites. We examine the dog’s assessment of Shearwater burrow occupancy in relation to burrow depth and the number of Shearwater occupants and the local occurrence of European Rabbits Oryctolagus cuniculus (hereafter ‘Rabbits’), which may all influence scent detection. We document problems, set-backs and solutions, and quantify the relative time effort required for canine scent detection compared to conventional survey methods, acknowledging that many of these issues would not have arisen had we employed fully-trained dogs and professional handlers. We hope that our study will encourage others to consider the use of scent dogs for seabird monitoring, under professional guidance and to conduct appropriate assessment of precision and sensitivity of scent dog performance.

Acknowledgements

We thank Sally Sanford for stimulating discussion on the potential of scent dogs for conservation monitoring and for demonstrating scent dogs in action. We also thank two anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on an earlier draft of this paper.

References

Animal Welfare Act 2006. www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2006/45/contents

title Journal vol

Barros, R., Medrano, F., Silva, R., Schmitt, F., Malinarich, V., Terán, D., Peredo, R., Pinto, C., Vallverdú, A., Fuchs, J. & Norambuena, H. V. 2020. Breeding sites, distribution and conservation status of the White-vented Storm-petrel Oceanites gracilis in the Atacama Desert. Ardea 108:203–212.

Bates, D., Maechler, M., Bolker, B. & Walker, S. 2015. Fitting Linear Mixed-Effects Models Using lme4. Journal of Statistical Software 67: 1–48.

Beebe, S. C., Howell, T. J. & Bennet, P. C. 2016. Using scent detection dogs in conservation settings: a review of the scientific literature regarding their selection. Frontiers in Veterinary Science 3: 96.

Bennett, E. M., Hauser, C. E. & Moore, J. L. 2020. Evaluating conservation dogs in the search for rare species. Conservation Biology 34: 314–325.

Bergström, A., Frantz, L., Schmidt, R., Ersmark, E., Lebrasseur, O., Girdland-Flink, L., Lin, A.T., Storå, J., Sjögren, K-G., Anthony, D., Antipina, E., Sarieh Amiri, S., Bar-Oz, G., Bazaliiskii, V. I., Bulatović, J., Brown, D., Carmagnini, A., Davy, T., Fedorov, S., Fiore, I., Fulton, D., Germonpré, M., Haile, J., Irving-Pease, E. K., Jamieson, A., Janssens, L., Kirillova, I., Kolska Horwitz, L. K., Kuzmanovic-Cvetković, J., Kuzmin, Y., Losey, R. J., Ložnjak Dizdar, D., Mashkour, M., Novak, M., Onar, V., Orton, D., Pasarić, M., Radivojević, M., Rajković, D., Roberts, B., Ryan, H., Sablin, M., Shidlovskiy, F., Stojanović, I., Tagliacozzo, A., Trantalidou, K., Ullén, I., Villaluenga, A., Wapnish, P., Dobney, K., Götherström, A., Linderholm, A., Dalén, L., Pinhasi, R., Larson, G. & Skoglund, P. 2020. Origins and genetic legacy of prehistoric dogs. Science 370, 557–674.

Bird, R. C. 1996. An examination of the Training and Reliability of the Narcotics Detection Dog. Kentucky Law Journal 85: 405–433.

Bolton, M., Sheenan, D., Bolton, S. E., Bolton, J. A. C. & Bolton, J. R. F. 2017. Resurvey reveals arrested population growth of the largest UK colony of European Storm-petrels Hydrobates pelagicus, Mousa, Shetland. Seabird 30: 15–30.

Browne, C., Stafford, K. & Fordham, R. 2006. The use of scent-detection dogs. Irish Veterinary Journal 59: 97–104.

Centre for Protection of National Infrastructure 2020. Canine detection guidance notes. Available online at www.cpni.gov.uk/canine-detection-guidance-notes. Accessed 27/12/2020.

Cristescu, R. H., Foley, E., Markula, A., Jackson, G., Jones, D. & Frere, C. 2015. Accuracy and efficiency of detection Dogs: a powerful new tool for koala conservation and management. Scientific Reports 5: 1–6.

Dahlgren, D. K., Elmore, R. D., Smith, D. A., Hurt, A., Arnett, E. B. & Connelly, J. W. 2012. Use of dogs in wildlife research and management. 7th edition. In: Silvy N. J. (ed.) The Wildlife Techniques Manual Volume 1: 140–153. The John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore.

DeGreeff, L. E. 2020. Elucidation and Durability of Odor Profiles of K9 Nose Work Materials.(Report No.6180/0306). Naval Research Lab, Washington, DC.

DeMatteo, K. E., Davenport, B. & Wilson, L. 2019. Back to the basics with conservation detection dogs: fundamentals for success. Wildlife Biology doi.org/10.2981/wlb.00584

Elliker, K. R., Sommerville, B. A., Broom, D. M., Neal, D. E., Armstrong, S. & Williams, H. C. 2014. Key considerations for the experimental training and evaluation of cancer odour detection dogs: lessons learnt from a double-blind, controlled trial of prostate cancer detection. BMC Urology 14: 22.

Gazit, I. & Terkel, J. 2003. Explosives detection by sniffer dogs following strenuous physical activity. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 81: 149–161.

aGerritsen, R. & Haak, R. 2017.uthor K9 Explosive and Mine Detection. Brush Education Inc, Canada.

Gilbert, G., Gibbons, D. W. & Evans, J. 1998. Bird Monitoring Methods: a manual of techniques for key species. RSPB, Bedfordshire, UK.

Grimm-Seyfarth, A., Harms, W. & Berger, A. 2021. Detection dogs in nature conservation: A database on their world-wide deployment with a review on breeds used and their performance compared to other methods. Methods in Ecology and Evolution 12: 568–579

Hewings, R. 2019. Scent training for every dog. First Stone, Warminster.

Jezierski, T., Ensminger, J. & Papet, L. 2016. Canine Olfaction Science and Law: Advances in Forensic Science, Medicine, Conservation, and Environmental Remediation. CRC Press, Florida.

Johnen, D., Heuwieser, W. & Fischer-Tenhagen, C. 2017. An approach to identify bias in scent detection dog testing. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 189: 1–12.

Kotthoff, M. & Nörenberg, S. 2016. Odor and nutrition. Part 2: traits of odors Ernahrungs Umschau 63: 22–30.

Lazarowski, L., Krichbaum, S., DeGreeff, L. E., Simon, A., Singletary, M., Angle, C. & Waggonner, L. P. 2020. Methodological Considerations in Canine Olfactory Detection Research. Frontiers in Veterinary Science 7: 408.

Lesaffre, E. & Spiessens, B. 2001. On the effect of the number of quadrature points in a logistic random effects model: an example. Journal of the Royal Statistical Society: Series C (Applied Statistics) 50: 325–335.

Long, R. A., Donovan, T. M., Mackay, P., Zielinski, W. J. & Buzas, J. S. 2007. Comparing scat detection dogs, cameras, and hair snares for surveying carnivores. Journal of Wildlife Management 71: 2018–2025.

Mathews, F., Swindells, M., Goodhead, R., August, T. A., Hardman, P., Linton, D. M. & Hosken, D. J. 2013. Effectiveness of search dogs compared with human observers in locating bat carcasses at wind-turbine sites: a blinded randomized trial. Wildlife Society Bulletin 37: 34–40.

Perkins, A. J., Douse, A., Morgan, G., Cooper, A. & Bolton, M. 2017. Using dual-sex calls improves the playback census method for a nocturnal burrow-nesting seabird, the Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus. Bird Study. 64: 146–158.

Porritt, F., Mansson, R., Berry, A., Cook, N., Sibbald, N. & Nicklin, S. 2015. Validation of a short odour discrimination test for working dogs. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 165: 133–142.

R Core Team 2019. R: A language and environment for statistical computing. R Foundation for Statistical computing, Vienna, Austria. www.R-project.org.

Reed, S. E., Bidlack, A. L., Hurt, A. & Getz, W. M. 2011. Detection distance and environ mental factors in conservation detection dog surveys. Journal of Wildlife Management 75: 243–51.

Rosell, F. 2017. Die Welt der Gerüche. Spezial-Spürhunde im Einsatz. Kynos Verlag, Nerdlen/Daun, Germany.

Uemura, E. E. 2015. Fundamentals of Canine Neuroanatomy and Neurophysiology. 1st ed. Wiley, Danvers, Massachusetts.